Although many parents fear the “terrible twos,” tantrums often start between 12 to 18 months. Young toddlers start to experiment with their autonomy and their newfound sense of self by attempting to control some aspects of their environment. Since most toddlers lack the vocabulary to express their wants and needs, they often vent their frustration by screaming, yelling and even hitting themselves or others. Even though tantrums can be frustrating, it is important to remember that you are the adult. Model calm, cool behavior for your child and avoid negotiating or arguing with a screaming, hysterical child.
Find out what scenarios or situations contribute to your child’s tantrums. Keep a “tantrum diary” in which you track when and where tantrums occurred along with the time of day, your child’s emotional state and other contributing factors, recommends Dr. William Sears, pediatrician and author.
Calmly remove your child to a private or safe place for the duration of the tantrum. Some children will allow you to hold them during tantrums while others want their space -- take your cues from your child. You can also try leaving the room or area and ignoring the tantrum as much as possible.
Avoid responding to the tantrum by screaming, yelling or hitting your child since these reactions can make the situation worse. Take several deep breaths at the start of a tantrum to calm yourself, suggests Dr. Alan Greene, a pediatrician and a clinical professor of pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine. Make a conscious effort to relax and stay in control of your emotions.
Voice your child’s frustrations and feelings for her during the tantrum. Since tantrums often occur because young toddlers lack the verbal skills to communicate their frustrations, talking them through tantrums can often stop the out-of-control behavior and open up communication between you and your child.
Hold your child in the aftermath of the tantrum. Talk to him in a gentle, calm voice about the tantrum and provide reassurance that you still love him and that anger and bad feelings can be a normal part of growing older.
Since young toddlers are more prone to tantrums when tired, cranky, bored or hungry, if possible you should avoid running errands or shopping close to naptime, bedtime or mealtimes. Bringing a snack along on shopping outings as well as special toys and books can often head off tantrums.
If your child throws a tantrum because she wants something -- or wants to do something that you forbade -- do not give in and allow it after the tantrum. Although giving her the desired object might make the tantrum stop, Greene cautions that it can prolong the tantrum phase by teaching her that throwing a fit will help her get what she wants.